The Western Arkansas Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA) severed ties with CRS Advanced Engineering, a Utah-based engineering firm, on Wednesday (Oct. 10) just four months after approving the $3,000 per month contract in June.
RITA board members voted unanimously at the regular bimonthly meeting to terminate the engineering contract, but according to RITA project manager Mat Pitsch, the decision was aligned more with the desires of Union Pacific (UP) than any financial reason.
RITA had asked companies to extend truck-to-rail services to the Arkansas River "to tie in to the harbor, and if this project ends up at Highway 59, Union Pacific would be the Class 1 to extend their line," Pitsch said.
“They (UP) run right up to it (the River), but you would have to extend to the River to get it off there and on to rail. That's what they (CRS) would have done, is design that piece,” Pitsch explained.
According to Pitsch, the UP executive RITA was working with "suggested we use an engineering firm that Union Pacific had used, and then that executive retired or resigned, and the new Union Pacific view was that they and A&M Railroad expressed an interest in using their own engineer." (UP and A&M Railroad officials were not in attendance on Wednesday to comment.)
As a result, RITA no longer has the $3,000 per month financial commitment and there is nothing that will replace it, which could be a good thing since financial projections are that the group will only possess a final balance of $2,096 at the end of the year (against estimated monthly operating expenses of $20,235).
The small amount of overage RITA will see for 2012 was made possible in part by the long inactive Van Buren Public Facilities Board (PFB), which came back from what Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman said was a "15-year" hiatus to move $50,000 of funding to RITA, "since the purposes of each run so much in parallel."
"It will help both organizations move forward," Freeman added.
The unapplied fund balance at the start of the year was $179,730, but expenses for the first nine months have totaled $182,117.
Through September 2012, administrative expenses have claimed the heaviest share at $99,000; consultants, contracts and legal expenses ran $67,525; travel and meeting expenses, $10,141; audits, $1,940; insurance and bonding, $2,400; and other miscellaneous expenses, $1,111.
September's ending balance (with the Van Buren PFB contribution included) is $47,613 with two-and-a-quarter months to go.
Also Wednesday, Ivy Owen, a RITA member and executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), said that "a little later today, FCRA would be closing on $1 million of real estate transactions."
Closing dates have been stubborn for the trust through the first nine months of the year, creating a deficit of approximately $650,000.
Two recent closings – a $542,000 sale to David and Douglas Harp for the construction of a trans-load facility at Chaffee Crossing and a $1.162 million sale to Custer Colley Properties, for 46.5 acres on the southeast corner of Chad Colley and Custer Boulevards (the Wednesday closing Owen was referring to) – will move the FCRA into the black for 2012.
The trans-load facility, reported in February by The City Wire as having possible connections to UP, will not be associated to the railroad company, Owen said.
Finally, construction of Arkansas Highway Department Headquarters will finish "sometime in early 2013," according to Tim Conklin, director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Conklin called the $11.6 million facility "a great asset for Chaffee Crossing" and commended the department for spending a total of $90 million in Chaffee Crossing and the Fort Smith region (including work on the future Interstate 49).
Regarding I-49, Conklin added that "bid laying for basic paving and surfacing" of the stretch from Highway 22 to Highway 71 will begin on Oct. 24.
The next regular meeting of the RITA board will take place Dec. 12.